While each of us celebrates this three-day weekend in our own favorite way—whether it’s with a backyard barbeque, a family camping trip, or taking time to plant your flowers—we all know there’s a much greater purpose for Memorial Day than simply kicking off the summer season. Today is the day for us as a nation to pause and remember the men and women of the military who lost their lives serving our country.
Originally introduced in 1868 as “Decoration Day”, its purpose was to honor fallen Civil War soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers. Renamed Memorial Day after World War I, it was then expanded to pay respect to all Americans who died in military service. It’s believed the last Monday in May was chosen because that’s when flowers are in bloom all over the country. President Nixon finally made Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971.
Today, there are countless Memorial Day events nationwide that range from lively parades to traditional ceremonies, like laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. But even if you’re celebrating in your own backyard, you can still pay respect to our nation’s heroes in simple yet meaningful ways:
- Observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 pm: “As we contemplate the comforts and blessings of our lives and the well-being of our nation, I ask you to pause just for a moment to remember those who gave their lives to protect the values that give meaning to our lives.” – President Bill Clinton, May 31, 1999
- Decorate a Veteran’s Grave: During Memorial Day Weekend, several thousand bouquets are placed at the Nations War Memorials in Washington, D.C. You can sponsor a thank-you bouquet through the National Memorial Day Foundation.
- Show Your Sympathy: Memorial Day can be a difficult time for those who have lost someone in the military. Whether you reach out by phone, email or an ecard, your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
It’s important to remember that the brave men and women we’re commemorating today died not only for our freedom as a nation, but for each one of us personally to live a safe and fulfilling life. To those of you currently serving in the military, we honor you with the utmost respect and gratitude and wish you a happy and peaceful Memorial Day.